Two men who helped manage used-car dealerships in Indianapolis face up to 20 years in prison after being convicted on federal racketeering and fraud charges, U.S. Attorney Josh Minkler announced Wednesday.
Mahdi Khelifi, 25, and Hamza Dridi 28, both of Indianapolis, were found guilty of participating in a conspiracy to violate the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, or RICO, and of interstate transportation of stolen property.
Khelifi also was convicted of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and two counts of conspiracy to commit wire fraud.
The convictions followed a two-week jury trial that ended Tuesday.
The men worked for Elite Enterprise, which operated car dealerships under the names Elite Imports LLC and Elite Car Imports LLC at 46th Street and Keystone Avenue in Indianapolis and at 8102 Pendleton Pike in Lawrence.
Minkler said the men worked as part of “a corrupt business organization plot to deceive a myriad of financial institutions and insurance companies across the country resulting in a loss upwards of $1.6 million.”
Eight other people involved in the Elite Enterprise case have already pleaded guilty to either participating in the RICO conspiracy or to related fraud charges.
Mohamed “Noshi” Mahmoud of Fishers, who was the principal leader of the group, and Issa Kayyali of Indianapolis, both pleaded guilty to racketeering charges and face up to 20 years in prison.
None of the defendants have been sentenced or assigned sentencing dates.
Mahmoud was manager of Elite Enterprise and also ran several “shell” companies in Indianapolis, investigators said.
Kehlifi was a managing sales associate involved in the day-to-day operations of the dealerships and Kayyali was a sales associate. Dridi was the service manager and mechanic in charge of a chop shop the dealership used to disassemble vehicles that were later alleged to be stolen.
The dealerships were raided by federal agents on Sept. 22, 2015.
The indictment alleges that the four men were involved in three connected fraud schemes.
The first involved procuring fraudulent documents and submitting them to lending institutions to underwrite the purchase of vehicles on behalf of Elite’s customers. The documents used Social Security numbers, dates of birth and pay stubs from the shell companies created by Elite employees.
The second scheme involved conspiracy to defraud insurance carriers by submitting false claims for stolen or damaged vehicles. In many cases, the so-called stolen cars or damaged parts were hidden in the chop shop storage unit, the indictment says.
The third involved theft from specialty financing companies who gave Elite short-term financing and lines of credit for vehicles in inventory. The companies were defrauded through false representations made by Elite management, investigators said.
“We are pleased that the jury was able to see this scheme for what is was,” Minkler said in written comments. “Elite Enterprise profited because of a continuous and pervasive culture of corruption. With the conviction of the final members of this criminal group, we have sent a strong message: if your business model includes stealing from others, we stand ready to enforce federal law to close your doors and to move criminals from their offices to the Bureau of Prisons.”
The case was investigated by a partnership between federal, state, and local officials, including the FBI, U.S. Postal Inspection Service, U.S. Social Security, Office of Inspector General, the Lawrence Police Department and the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department.
Assistance was provided by the Indiana Secretary of State’s Auto Division and the Indiana Attorney General Consumer Fraud Division.